Thunder Bay

Partnering for produce: New initiative brings fresh vegetables to remote Ontario First Nation

A partnership between a volunteer group in southern Ontario, a food bank in Thunder Bay, and a First Nations airline delivered 4,000 kilograms of food to Sandy Lake First Nation on Friday, and gave many of the children their first taste of fresh carrots and cucumbers.

Because 'it tastes so good': carrots become new favourite food for one 8-year-old

From left, Miranda Fiddler, Chloe McPherson, Madison Fiddler and Mercedes Goodman, were all enjoying crunching into some fresh carrots in the community of Sandy Lake First Nation, Ontario. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Eleven year old Mercedes Goodman and her friends in Sandy Lake First Nation, about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., have seen carrots before but never whole peppers, tomatoes or cucumbers.

However, this year, she and her family and the rest of the fly-in community are savouring the taste of a brand new Christmas tradition - fresh vegetables for every household.

Thousands of kilograms of fresh produce were donated by farmers in southern Ontario and flown into the First Nation by Wasaya Airways on Friday.

Her new favourite food is a carrot, says eight-year old Chloe Mcpherson,"because it tastes so good."

Meanwhile, the shipment has given Madison Fiddler the chance to experience, for the first time, the surprisingly fresh juicy taste of a cucumber.

She bites into it horizontally, like corn on the cob as Goodman explains that if she had a bunch of carrots, she'd "share them with the other people," which volunteers spent the afternoon doing.

Hunter Fiddler of Sandy Lake First Nation spent the afternoon dividing up 4,000 kilograms of food for his community to share. Here he shows a carrot that would be too big to sell in southern Ontario. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Dozens of people divided the produce into equal portions to make sure every household in the community of 3,000 would get an equal share.

As families arrived to pick up their produce, Bart Meekis, the chief of Sandy Lake, talking over a loudspeaker, kept the atmosphere light and fun, with the mood resembling a carnival more than a food line.

"The carrots that are there, they're really good for you. they're good to cook them with rabbit soup and moose meat soup and beaver soup and moose meat soup."

But the advice from Meekis wasn't just chatter. It was valuable advice for people in a community where fresh produce is a rarity.

The supply at the local grocery store is usually scarce, and what is available is very expensive, with a single green pepper costing $9.

Sandy Lake First Nation Chief Bart Meekis kept up a lively patter while the produce was being distributed, offering advice on how to cook and use the vegetables. (Jody Porter/CBC)

However, with these 4,000 kilogram shipment, people will be able to experiment with new, healthy foods and learn from each other, said Gary Manoakeesic, with the Sandy Lake Diabetes prevention project.

"It's not just one family having these foods but everybody will have a chance to try out the food, but most importantly to try out some other recipes versus what they always eat," he said.

The irony is that much of the food that is so welcome here, would have gone to waste down south, said Michelle McCormack, a volunteer with the Gleaners of Southwestern Ontario, who helped gather the food for delivery.

Michelle McCormack, (blue sweater) of the Gleaners, went to Sandy Lake First Nation to help deliver the shipment of 4,000 kilograms of food. Every single person said 'Thank you' as they left the gym with their share. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"Some of this produce would have gone to a landfill. See this carrot, it's too big or it's broken in half, so it's not going to go to a normal grocery store but it's still perfectly good to eat."

"I feel it in my bones," said McCormack, "this is the start of something wonderful."

The initiative, which was part of CBC Thunder Bay's Sounds of the Season, was a partnership among the Gleaners, the Regional Food Distribution Association in Thunder Bay, and Wasaya Airways, a First Nation-owned company.

Every family in Sandy Lake First Nation received a food hamper, which included a variety of fresh vegetables. (Jody Porter/CBC)

with files from Jody Porter